Jul 5, 2008 12:12pm
University given huge collection of 78 rpm records
SYRACUSE, New York (AP) -- A vast collection of 78 rpm records is being donated to Syracuse University by the estate of a prominent New York City record shop owner.
The more than 200,000 records represented the entire inventory of "Records Revisited," a landmark Manhattan store owned by Morton Savada, who died in February of lung cancer at age 85.
The collection, valued at $1 million, weighs 50 tons and represents more than a half-century of American music history.
Included are recordings from 1895 to the 1950s, with big band, jazz, country, blues, gospel, polka, folk, Broadway, Hawaiian and Latin among the genres. The collection also contains spoken-word, comedy and broadcast recordings, and "V-disks," which were distributed as entertainment to the U.S. military during World War II.
"It's a treasure trove of that era," said Joe Lauro, founder of Historic Film Archive, whose holdings include more than 40,000 musical performance clips and which holds exclusive rights to such famous shows as "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "Don Kirshner's Rock Concert."
"In terms of individual records at high prices ... there's not a lot of that in there. The value is that it's the largest massing of recordings from one particular era," said Lauro, who was befriended by Savada as a teenager and visited his store often during their 35-year-long friendship.
Even though they don't yet know what gems await them in Savada's collection, university officials were ecstatic about the donation, which boosts the Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive's collection of 78 rpm records to about 400,000 -- second in the United States only to the Library of Congress collection. His family also donated Savada's collection of catalogs, discographies and other materials.
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Sound recordings are a rich resource for researchers, faculty and students in a variety of disciplines -- musicology, history, filmmaking, journalism and political science -- said University Librarian and Dean of Libraries Suzanne Thorin.
Besides documenting the musical styles and performance practices of the day, these sound recordings provide a glimpse into social, political and cultural history, she said.
"The Savada collection is truly an archival wonder," said Theo Cateforis, assistant professor in Syracuse's Department of Fine Arts, who also makes extensive use of sound recordings in teaching.
"For students whose relationship with music and technology rarely extends beyond the confines of the iPod, it is always eye-opening to see and hear the original 78s that were the mainstay of the recording industry for many decades," he said.
Savada did not attend Syracuse, but wanted to donate his collection to a major institution that would maintain it and make the recordings available for research and teaching, said his son, Elias Savada, who runs a film research company based in Bethesda, Maryland.
Morton Savada was familiar with Syracuse's audio laboratory and archive from meetings of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, said Savada, whose daughter graduated from Syracuse in 2005.
With its collection of more than 340,000 items, Belfer is the fourth-largest sound archive in the country and includes formats from the earliest experimental recordings on tinfoil to modern digital media. Its collection of 22,000 cylinder records is the largest held by any private institution in North America, and one of the largest in the world.
The Savada collection has been packed into about 1,300 boxes and will be taken to Syracuse next week on six 20-foot-long Federal Express trucks, Elias Savada said.
The records are thicker and heavier than the later standard 33 1/3 rpm albums, which were in vogue before they were supplanted by cassette tapes and then compact discs. The 10-inch, 78 rpm albums have one song to a side, and weigh about a half pound each.
Morton Savada took over his father's shirt business, Savada Bros., in the 1950s and ran it until opening the record store in 1977. He began collecting 78 rpms as a teen in the 1930s.
Savada would often bring collectors together at his shop, where the narrow aisles were flanked floor to ceiling with shelving holding his records.
Records Revisited was the last store exclusively selling 78 rpm recordings and was a frequent haunt for those in the film and music industries, including actor/directors Woody Allen and Matt Dillon.
Savada often lent his 78s to movie and music producers rather than selling them, and never sold the last copy of a recording because he regarded his collection as an archive, not an inventory.
"He was more interested in making you a $5 copy on tape than selling you a record. He considered himself a keeper of history more than a collector," Lauro said.